There are pros and cons to renting a car in Costa Rica. We have detailed them in this article about driving in Costa Rica. We recommend a 4x4 for all destinations. This is a must for Monteverde, San Gerardo de Dota, Rio Celeste or the Osa Peninsula. We also recommend adding a GPS unit and a good map.
Generally, renting a car will allow you more freedom, flexibility and convenience to come and go as you please. If you want to go to town for the evening, you can just jump in your car and go. Returning to your hotel will be just as easy.
When considering whether or not to rent a car, you should be aware that Costa Rican roads, infrastructure, regulations and drivers are not up to North American or European standards. Things that you would normally take for granted such as street signs, guardrails and street lights are often simply not there. Most bridges are only one lane and often come without warning. Driving through San Jose, Alajuela, Escazu and any other cities can be a nightmare.
Despite their otherwise gentle nature, Costa Rican drivers are notoriously aggressive. This is in large part due to the poor roads which are generally two lanes, making it difficult to pass large, slow moving trucks. There is also a problem with rental car break-ins at many attractions, beaches, restaurants and road stops. Basically, this all means that you will have to be alert at all times and have the car within clear site anytime you have anything in it.
With a rental car, you will be responsible for paying for your gas. This is not a small matter as gas costs around $6 USD per gallon. You will also have to factor in the mandatory basic insurance, which often costs as much or more than the car does.
Rental car agencies will require you to place a deposit on your rental car. The amount depends on the type of insurance you have as well as vehicle make and model. The normal deposit amount is $750 - $1,500, though sometimes higher. It normally takes a couple weeks to be returned as they must check if you received any traffic tickets. If so, it will be taken out of your deposit.
Provided transfers are the other side of the coin. You can choose private or shared shuttle transfers between most destinations. The advantage is you can just sit back, relax and take in the scenery while a professional driver does all of the work. There is an excellent taxi cab system in all tourist destinations and nearly all tour operators will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. In addition; you can stop at attractions between destinations without worry of your car being broken into. The disadvantage to choosing provided transfers is that you lose the immediate gratification of being able to just jump in your car and go that a rental car provides.
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